Turkey to get 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses: BioNTech’s Şahin
A nurse fills a syringe with the Pfizer Biontech vaccine at the vaccination center of German speciality chemicals company Evonik in Hanau, western Germany, on Mai 19, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (AFP Photo)

Turkey to get 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses: BioNTech’s Şahin

BioNTech co-founder Uğur Şahin attended a live videoconference with Health Minister Fahrettin Koca late Thursday.

The scientist said in the call that they will bring 120 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of September.

Health Minister Koca later said that 30 million doses will arrive in June and 6.1 million doses have also been received.

“We will work day and night to send vaccines to Turkey on time,” Şahin, who hails from a Turkish family that immigrated to Germany, added during the videoconference.

Stressing that he was “proud” as a Turk when he heard about the vaccination work in Turkey, Şahin said they want to both produce vaccines and do research and development in Turkey.

Underlining that they tried the vaccine on more than 30 virus variants, Şahin said it also works against mutations.

“We also tested the Indian mutation this week. Our vaccine has 25-30% efficiency against the Indian variant. We expect 70-75% protection from infection,” he said.

Stressing that high antibodies are achieved after the first dose of BioNTech vaccine in those who are infected, Şahin said that this antibody level is the same as people who were not infected and got two vaccine doses.

He suggested that third doses should be given in 2022, six to nine months after second doses.

Koca also noted that the ministry expects the Turkish population to have developed public immunity against the virus before September with the help of the incoming doses. The health minister added that they had invited Şahin to Turkey at the beginning of June.

Koca stated that Sinovac, the Beijing-based firm behind CoronaVac, had granted Turkey authorization to produce the vaccine but that production would not start for a few months. The health minister noted that 10 million CoronaVac vaccines are expected to be delivered to Turkey within the week.

Turkey started administering CoronaVac jabs to health care personnel in January and the president himself was vaccinated with the inactive vaccine. Recently, authorities also started giving the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to citizens who opt for it. Media reports also said that authorities were in talks to acquire the Moderna vaccine.

The country once ranked sixth in terms of vaccination in the world but the drive has somewhat slowed down. Experts tie it to challenges in vaccine deliveries, something the health minister recently has partly acknowledged. But authorities are also concerned that anti-vaxxers and vaccine skeptics may affect the inoculation drive.

Work is underway on locally made vaccines, but most are still in the early stages of development and scientists hope to achieve results this year. Vaccines being developed in the country range from an inactive vaccine to an intra-nasal spray and a virus-like particle (VLP) vaccine. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters that universities and pharmaceutical companies are working hard and he expected “mass production” would start in September or October “based on what they pledged.”

Meanwhile, the country has also approved the use of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

With the declining coronavirus cases thanks to a strict lockdown in Turkey, the country has entered a 15-day period of gradual lifting of restrictions as of early Monday.

The 17-day full lockdown, which covered the remainder of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as well as three days of Ramadan Bayram, also known as Eid al-Fitr, ended as of 5 a.m. local time on Monday.

Turkey sees less than 10,000 new daily cases for first time since March 1

Turkey on Thursday saw fewer than 10,000 new COVID-19 daily cases for the first time since March 1, Koca also announced, marking a key milestone in the country’s fight against coronavirus.

Koca said the number of daily cases fell below 10,000 after the 17-day lockdown.

He stressed that Turkey has the potential to vaccinate more than 1.5 million people per day.

Koca added that Turkey could start Phase 3 studies of its domestic COVID-19 vaccine at the beginning of June.

If the studies conclude successfully, national vaccines may be used with emergency use approval by September, Koca added.

“The vaccination rate for over-65s has reached 84%,” Koca said.

Turkey will continue vaccinating people gradually, going down to age 20 in June if there is no problem with vaccine supplies, he added.

Turkey will continue its fight against the pandemic with widespread vaccination and personal precautions such as wearing masks and maintaining social distance, he said.

This article originally appeared in DAILY SABAH on 21 May 2021.